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The Working Caregiver

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Updated June 30, 2012

Of the biggest challenges of being a caregiver for a blood cancer patient is being able to balance the responsibility of that role with the demands of their own life. One of these “real life” demands is employment, or their job.

A Necessary Evil

For many of us, work outside the home is necessary. We need to work to pay our bills, keep a roof over our heads, as well as to fulfill personal needs as well. Work may also provide us with the ability to pay for medical care. If we are really lucky, we like our job and find enjoyment in going to work each day.

Work can really eat up a good chunk of a day! For many people, their job can take up 8 hours a day, and that doesn’t include travel time. This is why working caregivers often feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day- because there isn’t! The trick is to find a balance between these two roles, as well as the regular tasks of everyday life.

Here are a few tips and suggestions to successfully manage being a working caregiver.

Decrease your work hours

Reducing the number of hours you spend at work temporarily might help ease some of the caregiving time crunch. However, it will mean a decrease in your income. Some employers might be able to help you come up with a solution that will work for both parties. Supplementing decreased work hours with vacation time, or a job sharing arrangement will allow your employer to maintain productivity while allowing you to keep your foot in the door.

Consider flexible work hours

If your employer is agreeable, you may find working different hours can help with caregiving duties. This is especially helpful if you have help with the caregiving. For example, you could try taking days off during the week, and working the weekend while an alternate caregiver takes your place. Starting work later in the day, say at lunchtime for example, might help you to get some caregiving tasks done before work begins.

Take a leave

If you are able to take a leave of absence from work without loss of pay, this is the best case scenario. If not, you may be able to take an unpaid leave through the Federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law requires certain employers to allow you to take 12 weeks off a year without your job being threatened. However, this is an unpaid leave and may not be available, depending on the size of the company you work for.

Work from home

Ugh! Bringing work home? For some people, the thought of a home office makes their skin crawl. But, it may be a good solution to help you balance work with caregiving duties. Working from home allows you to be a little more flexible with your time, and spend bits of time here and there throughout the day to go to appointments, make phone calls, or coordinate resources.

Working from home does require a good deal of self- discipline, so if you need some structure and timelines to get things done this might not be a great option for you.

Talk to your employer

This will depend on your relationship with your employer of course, but sometimes there are services or policies (or a lack of policies) that can benefit you in this situation. If you work for a company with a human resources department, they might be able to help you work out the details. When employers know the struggles you are encountering, they may be willing to be more accommodating to your caregiving needs.

Utilize your resources

I honestly don’t think I can say this enough. When people offer to help you out, it’s because they want to. Being able to assist someone in a time of trouble helps people to feel better. They feel like they are doing something. So let them! If someone wants to take some of the burden off your shoulders, it’s a win-win situation. Don’t be shy! Make a list of things that need to get done, and sign people up!

Also have a look into what resources are available for caregivers in your community or through your cancer center. You might be very surprised to hear how much they can help you.

Don’t mix business with caregiving

Unless absolutely necessary, avoid taking and making personal calls during work hours. Wait until a designated break time to carry out tasks on the computer or telephone.

Know your limits

It may be hard to hear, but you are only human and you can only do so much. As a human first and a caregiver next, you have certain needs that have to be met. You need to have healthy meals. You need to get sleep AND rest. If you are feeling overwhelmed or burned out, it won’t be long before your batteries run out and you won’t be much help to anyone.

Be sure to schedule time each day for you to spend on yourself. Even if it is only 15 or 30 minutes, write it on the calendar and stick to your appojntment as if it were one with a specialist. If you feel like you are overly stressed or burned out, consider speaking with a mental health professional to help walk you through some new coping strategies you can try. Sometimes it helps just to have a sympathetic and supportive, unbiased ear to listen to you.

Use great time management skills

Make a list of things you need to get done in order of priority. Start by getting the most important things done first and then worry about (or delegate away) the optional things afterward. Again, make sure to pencil in a few moments of “me time” as well.


While it is true, being a caregiver to a loved one with leukemia or lymphoma can be extremely fulfilling it can also be difficult to balance these duties with other aspects of your life- including work. The important thing is to try to be flexible in both areas and look at some creative options for managing the juggling act.

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